Lisbon Essay (22): Vote Yes to this unloved bastard son of the European Convention…

Another European view and another from the Yes perspective comes from Daniel Cohn-Bendit, renegade from 1968 and currently co-president of the European Greens–European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament… No one loves it, he says. Who could? It long, legalistic, and complicated. An ad man’s nightmare. But it is the shaken down product of 8 years of filtering and dispute between all the countries of Europe. It’s not as democratic as he would like, nor as democratic as that convention originally wanted, but it is a step forward in that it strengthens the role of national parliaments in the wider decision making process, and beefs up the power of the European Parliament. Imperfectly formed as it is, voting No is to reject the greater democratisation of the whole…

By Daniel Cohn-Bendit

The Lisbon treaty is certainly no thing of beauty. It is not a work of constitutional prose that will inspire pride in future generations of Europeans. However, anyone who argues that it could or should be is either naive or willfully ignoring the reality of a European Union with 27 member states, in which decisions on institutional reform are made by consensus among these conflicting national interests.

It is hard to passionately promote this treaty, which, in reality, is the unloved bastard son of the European Convention. The Convention brought together stakeholders from across Europe to draw up a blueprint for a more democratic, transparent and efficient EU. That the outcome of this process, which began 8 years ago, should be the complicated and unloveable treaty that was signed in Lisbon is unfortunate but also inevitable.

That is not to say that the Lisbon treaty represents a failed attempt to make the EU more democratic, transparent and efficient. While the treaty certainly does not go as far in these areas as most of those involved in the Convention wanted, it clearly represents a step forward.

It strengthens the role of national parliaments in the EU decision-making process. It increases the powers of the directly-elected European Parliament. It gives EU citizens a more direct route for influencing EU policy. It adapts the decision-making process to the reality of an enlarged EU and reforms the EU institutions to enable them to better operate in a changed international environment, with the expectations this brings for the EU.

There is no doubt that it could and should have gone further in all these areas but the Lisbon treaty would clearly represent an improvement on the status quo.

There is a myth being perpetuated that if the Lisbon treaty fails it would create the possibility for a new and better treaty. The reality is that there is no ‘better deal’. The argument that by rejecting the Lisbon treaty we will get something better simply does not stand up to any objective analysis.

The European Union now consists of 27 member states, which not only have their own national interests but also myriads of sub-national interests, covering a population of almost 500 million. A treaty to reform the EU must balance all these interests and try to accommodate them. Clearly, nobody will ever be fully accommodated but a consensual democratic decision-making system, like in the EU, must try to find a solution that is broadly acceptable.

That is what the Lisbon treaty is. It is hideous in its complexity; it is a compromise for all involved; but, after 8 years of deliberation, it is the only deal in town to try and improve the way the European Union works.

Those of us who are unhappy that it does not go further to make the European Union more democratic or transparent are naturally frustrated. However, we must also recognise that it does include improvements that will make the EU more democratic and transparent.

To reject the treaty outright is to reject these improvements: throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. That would be a mistake for Europe and a mistake for Ireland.

You can view the full set of essays here: